We’ve been hearing rumors about a new Apple augmented reality headset for years now, but it’s unclear when the company plans to introduce this product. Although some rumors had pointed to the launch in 2020, this has not happened — and now a new rumor suggests that Apple’s AR glasses are coming this year. Read on for our full breakdown of Apple’s AR device rumors.
The first rumors about an AR device from Apple emerged in 2017 when Bloomberg reported that Apple was working on its own AR headset to be introduced sometime in 2020. The report mentioned that Apple was internally testing a new headset with a System-in-Package similar to the Apple Watch Series 1 chip, which would run a new “rOS” operating system based on iOS.
Although Bloomberg’s first report didn’t provide much detail on what this device would look like beyond being an “AR headset,” Financial Times said in the same year that Apple was developing augmented reality glasses that would have 3D cameras and rely on the iPhone to work. Apple introduced the ARKit API with iOS 11 that year, which further improved the augmented reality technology for iOS apps.
In early 2018, Apple began discussions with companies that build components for AR and VR devices, including EMagin — which produces OLED display components for this type of headset. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple had plans to begin mass production of its first augmented reality product between 2019 and 2020, but he also warned that the schedule could change as the project had not been finalized by then.
Specifications, design, and features
In the same report, Kuo mentioned that the first generation of Apple’s AR headset will be heavily dependent on the iPhone, just as the first generation of Apple Watch was. The analyst said that all “Apple Glasses” data will be rendered and processed on the iPhone, with the new device working as an AR screen.
Using the iPhone to do the heavy work of Apple’s AR headset should allow the company to build a much lighter, more comfortable accessory to wear — just like regular glasses, which would not be possible if the device were a full, standalone machine.
Apple “confirmed” in 2019 that the company is working on some kind of AR device thanks to some internal files that were left in a build of iOS 13 and found by 9to5Mac. A new internal system called StarBoard is responsible for rendering and managing AR images on the iPhone and showing them on the AR headset, which corroborates rumors about this device working similar to the first Apple Watch with WatchKit apps.
iOS 13 code also revealed that the company has been testing AR mode with apps like Maps, Find My, and Quick Look (to explore web content on AR), as well as APIs to support games and other applications. Since then, Apple has been filing patents related to a device that can “provide 3D virtual views of a user’s environment augmented with virtual content.”
Bloomberg then described Apple’s AR headset as glasses that can show text, emails, maps, games, and other things through holographic displays built into the lens. Last year, Mark Gurman revealed that the company has two strategies for its augmented reality devices, one being the AR glasses and the other a more robust AR/VR headset.
According to the report, the headset aims to combine the best of AR and VR to offer industry leading gaming and content VR experiences, whereas the slim and light glasses will be AR only and focus on overlaying data like maps navigations over what the user is seeing in the real world.
Another report from The Information stated that Apple has made progress with the semi-transparent lenses of its AR glasses, which supposedly went into trial production in July last year.
The Information reports its sources say Apple has been working on the semitransparent lenses with its major manufacturing partner Foxconn since 2018. That timing also lines up with when Apple purchased Akonia Holographics — a company that specializes in liquid crystal on silicon displays to project images on special lenses.
When to expect Apple’s AR headset?
2020 is gone, and Apple has not announced any AR-focused devices as some rumors predicted. Bloomberg once said that the Apple AR/VR headset would be introduced in 2021 or 2022, while the “Apple Glasses” would only come in 2023 due to difficulties in developing and manufacturing them. This information was later corroborated by other sources.
This week, reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported that Apple will in fact announce its first augmented reality device in 2021 — although he didn’t mention whether this will be the AR/VR headset or the AR glasses. A device like this will likely be announced at the end of the year when Apple usually introduces its new hardware lineup or at least at WWDC in June with the new “rOS” operating system.
The fact is that Apple has been increasingly enhancing its ARKit API and also the cameras on its devices to provide a better augmented reality experience. The LiDAR scanner, which was introduced with the 2020 iPad Pro and has also been included in the iPhone 12 Pro models, is definitely something that should fit perfectly in a new AR device.